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Salvation Army brings holiday cheer

Photos by Aaron Paden/ Above, bell ringer Rockie Bannister stands by the Wal-Mart entrance greeting customers Tuesday. Below, a Wal-Mart customer donates a few dollars to the Salvation Army Tuesday.

Photos by Aaron Paden/
Above, bell ringer Rockie Bannister stands by the Wal-Mart entrance greeting customers Tuesday. Below, a Wal-Mart customer donates a few dollars to the Salvation Army Tuesday.

“We’re bell ringers for God,” George Mitchell said.

For a month, 10 hours a day, six days a week, bell ringers stand in front of the Wal-Mart Supercenter, greeting customers and directing their attention to a brightly-colored kettle for making donations. The donations are for The Salvation Army, a 150-year-old organization whose mission is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.”

Mitchell said he started bell ringing about two weeks ago after filing an application at the office in McComb.

“I always wanted to do it,” Mitchell said. “When I was staying in Hammond, I used to see Salvation Army people come out, ring the bell, and I’d donate to them. It’s a good thing to help anybody and everybody out.”

Rockie Bannister, another bell ringer, said she started bell ringing to meet people and describes most of her interactions with people as positive, but not all of them.

“I got cursed out my first day,” Bannister said. “A lady said something about the Salvation Army didn’t do anything for her when she needed help. She cussed me from A to Z. I stood there and waited until she finished. I didn’t say anything to her but merry Christmas. I said, ‘Merry Christmas, ma’am.’ … Since then, it’s been positive energy.”

Mitchell and Bannister both stressed that it’s important to keep a positive attitude while on the job.

“If anybody walks by, I smile and ask them how they’re doing,” Mitchell said. “I keep ringing the bell. When they walk out, I tell them ‘Have a great day.’

“People are just really friendly. They enjoy watching us do this. I’ve had people kind enough to bring me water, buy me something to drink, and just say, ‘I know it’s hot. Have a nice cold bottle of water.’ It’s real nice. I enjoy that.”

Capt. Andy Bailey, with the McComb branch, said there were certain qualifications for getting help from the organization, but 83 percent of money raised goes to helping people.

“This Christmas we’ll be helping over 200 local kids through the Angel Tree program,” Bailey said. “We’ve got a lot going on. We’re covering a lot of territory. Our promise to the community is to do the most good with your time, your money and your resources.”

While the nearest Salvation Army office is in McComb, Bailey said he hopes to build a permanent presence in Brookhaven. Currently, the group has meetings in Brookhaven every Thursday for people who need help.

“Our social service lady, La’Verne Quinn, she goes up to the DHS office,” Bailey said. “She makes appointments ahead of time through our office in McComb, and she goes up and has a set of times. We help with water bills, gas bills, power bills, rental assistance.”

People who want to help out or make an appointment to get help can call the office at 601-249-0131 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Bailey said the phones may be down, but they should be back up soon.